One story told to me during my art education was about the design and structure of the Japanese tea house. The doors of the tea house were designed to be made especially small, small where you would have to crouch down and sometimes so small that you would have to crawl in on your knees. The door was designed this way to symbolize leaving all worldly possessions behind except yourself. During times of war, the soldier’s cherished sword would be one of these worldly possessions. The tea house represented a sacred place where swords were left at the door and stories, tea, and humanity would be shared among fighters of opposing sides. In Japanese, these moments are called “Ichi-go, Ichi-e,” meaning “one time, one meeting or encounter.” These words capture the cultural concept of appreciating the series of events that had to align in order for that exact moment to happen. The neutral space in the tea room gave soldiers a place for reflection and contemplation. No matter what side they were on, no matter what they were fighting for, they listened to one another with respect.
Ever since the 2016 presidential election, like many of us, I have been torn between two worlds. I have friends and family members who have expressed views that are on the other end of the spectrum as mine. I know since then, people have blocked or even deleted profiles that expressed opinions that differed from their own. What is the overall impact of deleting or blocking your family and friends who think differently? How does this contribute to making things less polarized? Social media has become less of a place for connection and understanding and has increasingly become an echo-chamber for our own thoughts and opinions.
What if we opened up a safe space for respectful conversation, rather than sheltering and hiding in the comfort of our own perspectives?
Would this result in bridging the gaps between us and making a world in which more diverse opinions are honored? What would this look like in politics? If we listened to one another, would we consider each others’ perspectives with regard to policy? If we shared our stories, would our empathic connections destroy the fear of the unknown?
In our house, the dining table represents the sacred space of the tea house: A place to converse, and at which we spend intimate time making memories and nourishing our bodies. This has also become a landing area where we hash out arguments and come to an understanding.
Like the soldiers at the tea house, could we leave our hurtful words and swords at the door? Can we open up a space of neutral understanding?
Would you share your table with someone who looks or thinks differently than you?
How to have a heart to heart:
Pick a topic that you may think differently about and acknowledge that you have a difference of opinion. Ask the other person if they would be willing to teach you why they stand for their position. Be teachable and listen. While you do this, cultivate:
Empathy. Empathy is a word that is thrown around a lot these days, but real empathy requires hard work. Empathy is trying to understand the other person's worldview, and why they may think or believe the things they do, through their eyes. Empathy is not assuming what they believe or think because of their background, but instead, actually listening to their stories and experiences. BE QUIET and let them talk!
Openness. Be brave and share your story. Instead of persuading them to take your side, take the time to build trust by expressing your thoughts and concerns through your own experience and world view. Do you have a personal story that relates to a political topic? This is a GREAT TIME to talk about it. Break down terms that are sometimes glossed over. What does choice mean? What does equality mean? Dive into these words and try to understand what they mean to one another.
These are hard conversations because these topics are deeply emotional, personal, and controversial. Like anything, practice makes perfect, and even then, they probably won't be perfect. They WILL get better and it WILL get easier. Ask someone you trust to practice with you. Have a conversation and you will be surprised what you will learn about one another.
From having these difficult conversations, I’ve discovered beliefs I held that are not fully thought through and received similar sentiments from the other person. Many times, we find more similarities than differences, but just expressed through different lenses. If your conversation ends at a standstill, it's okay! It’s not about winning them over. What you shared with them could be a perspective that has never been considered before. And just leave it at that. Let them make their own decision. The hope is that their decisions consider your experience. Just as your decisions will consider theirs.
Trust has to be built. Empathy can be learned. More information, knowledge, experience, and wisdom lead to richer decisions and actions.
In the end, what remains true is that we all want to be heard, loved, and understood. Will you take the time to listen, love, and learn?
Through opening up these conversations, we eliminate fear, we abolish hate and open up the door to understanding. And maybe, just maybe, our home will be a better place.
It just starts with: “Let's have dinner.” …6 feet apart of course…Can you do that?
I know you can.
“one time, one meeting”
Thank you Ren, Hannah and Jenny Rosen for you wisdom, love and encouragement.